We may not have hit the Christmas boom just yet, but working in e-commerce, it certainly seems that once the summer draws to an end, so do the days of leaving work early on a Friday for some much needed retail therapy and socialising after what you thought to be a “long week”. Perhaps the spring cleaning has left some home owners realising that their living rooms need a little “pick me up” after the mantelpieces are cleared from clutter and the rooms are looking somewhat bare, so why not invest in a nice new rug? Whatever the reason may be, the past few weeks at The Rug House have been pretty hectic, not that we´re complaining of course! Without a warehouse management system or automated shipping software in place yet though, it means that everything is done manually, so this is where those valuable team work and communication skills really come in and everyone has to help out where needed.
This week my work with the new website and doing any research has been pushed aside to deal with the more pressing day to day duties. I´ve found myself helping out a lot with customer service, which is something I haven´t been involved in at all since I first started. I suppose you could say I´ve been so focused on acquiring sales that I´d forgotten the importance of ensuring that existing customers are receiving the best experience possible, and how invaluable good customer service really is to a business. Dealing specifically with the international customer service, here´s what I feel is important to point out and where I know improvement is needed (all in good time though!)
Google Translate – The good, the bad and avoiding the ugly:
I know it´s not an ideal method of communicating with customers who don´t speak English, but it has served us quite well so far. I feel that as long as your professionalism as a company still comes through the messages, Google Translate is a pretty powerful tool for the main EU languages (French, Spanish, German and Italian) until you have the resources to invest in native speakers. For the more generic replies, I translated several of our email templates into French and Spanish, which is definitely an option if you can find a translator to do it cheaply. One thing I advise, coming from a translation background, if using automated translation like Google, is that you simplify your language as much as possible and be careful with your choice of words to avoid any ridiculous translations. We also include an introductory message at the start of emails to warn customers that what they are about to read is an automated translation, this can help to reassure any fears and know that although you do take your international customers seriously, a reply from a native speaker is not possible. It may not be the most professional of choices, but there have been very few, if any issues with language barriers thanks to good old Google Translate. For companies with a limited budget, it is definitely worth giving it a go. Of course, there comes a point when Google translate will not be enough, especially with a fully localised website in place and a bigger influx of messages in other languages, but in our case it´s definitely a matter of crossing that bridge when we come to it.
The (international) customer is always right:
International customers are like little bits of gold dust to me, like rare jewels that you would do anything to hold on to and I get so excited when any issues arise because it´s the perfect way to see how you can overcome the challenge and end up with a happy customer. I´m not saying that I offer them the sun moon and stars, but I always try to be as sensitive as possible to their needs and remember that they chose to buy our products over a seller in their country, so they deserve to receive the same treatment that we offer our domestic customers. One way that we keep our US customers happy is by covering any customs charges on shipments, meaning our customers don´t receive any unpleasant surprises from Fedex a week after they´ve received their rug. It seems like it´s the simplest of things that most customers really appreciate.
The benefits of getting personal:
One of the advantages of working in a small business is really being able to get to know your customers. Over the past week I communicated with 3 or 4 customers who found something they liked but needed a little help in placing their order; or who saw something they wanted but weren´t sure of the delivery procedure or if combined shipping costs were possible. This is where my language skills came in, rusty as I am after almost 2 years without speaking Spanish or French, having personal contact with these customers enabled me to gain new customers and provide them with a great experience. This personal feel is what I hope will bring a lot of international customers back to us, especially when the website is up and running. I think that people just like to know they are communicating with other people, and when an effort is made to cater to someone´s needs, it can go a long way.
If anyone who is also starting out in international ecommerce has any questions for me or would like some advice, I can’t guarantee that I’ll have the answer but I’ll certainly do my best to help, or indeed if anyone has any advice that they would like to share with me, please feel free to get in touch by tweeting @OpentoExport with the hashtag #LornasBlog.
If anyone would like to know more about The Rug House, please feel free to visit the website at www.therughouse.co.uk.